Stay safe in Vietnam
|Vietnam treats drug offences with extreme severity. The death penalty is mandatory for those convicted of trafficking, manufacturing, importing or exporting more than 15 g of heroin, 30 g of morphine, 30 g of cocaine, 500 g of cannabis, 200 g of cannabis resin and 1.2 kg of opium, and possession of these quantities is sufficient to be convicted.|
Illicit use can lead to up to 10 years in prison, a heavy fine or both. You can be charged with illicit use as long as traces of illegal drugs are found in your system, even if you can prove they were consumed outside the country, and you can be charged with trafficking as long as drugs are found in bags in your possession or in your room, even if they are not yours and you are aware of them – so be careful with your possession.
Crime in Vietnam
Vietnam is a relatively safe country for tourists, especially when travelling in groups.
While many safety warnings in travel guides are nothing but scare tactics, tourist areas are popular places for petty crime. Violent crimes against foreigners are rare, but pickpocketing and motorbike thefts are not uncommon in the larger cities. Motorbike thieves steal bags, mobile phones, cameras and jewellery from pedestrians and other motorcyclists. Do not carry your bag over your shoulder when riding a motorbike. Do not put it in the basket of the motorbike. When walking down a street, carry your bag on your inside shoulder. If your bag is snatched from you, do not resist being dragged across the road.
Occasionally there have been reports of thefts from hotel rooms, even from upscale hotels. Do not assume that the safe in your hotel room is tamper-proof.
Avoid arguments and fights with locals. Westerners may be more important than Vietnamese, but if you are dealing with five or more Vietnamese, you are in trouble. Remember that shouting is very offensive to the Vietnamese and can provoke a violent reaction. Vietnamese are generally peaceful and friendly. As a visitor, you must respect local laws and customs. Disputes can be easily avoided by showing courtesy and tolerating cultural differences. Behave in an exemplary manner when drinking with Vietnamese men.
Corruption in Vietnam
Corruption is a big problem in Vietnam and people are convinced that the police cannot be trusted. While police often patrol with a specific task or mission, motorcyclists can be arrested for various reasons, such as random checks of papers and permits, and they fine foreigners about $20 per offence (the average fine for locals is about $5 to $10). Remember to be polite but firm and firm. Traffic officers are required to record traffic violations in their logbooks and must give you a receipt for your fine, which must then be paid at the station (not at the officer’s office), always keeping in mind that for some violations (such as no documents for the vehicle you are driving), officers have the right to seize and confiscate your bicycle. If you have a phone, you can threaten to call your embassy and they may back off, although in most cases it is often best to avoid further trouble and simply pay the fine.
In remote or rural areas, you will usually not have any problems with the police, as the officers are likely to have a poor command of the English language. However, in big cities and areas frequented by tourists, there are more and more police officers who know how to communicate with tourists.
Immigration officials are known to accept bribes. In the early days of Doi Moi (the 1990s reform), bribes could be a few US dollars or a few packs of 555 cigarettes. Today, although officials still seem to have no problem accepting them, it is perfectly safe and acceptable not to pay bribes.
Most authorities also ask for a small “gratuity” before processing the documents. This is most often the case when you are trying to obtain a residence permit for private accommodation or a work/residence permit.
The international watchdog group Transparency International has ranked Vietnam as one of the most corrupt countries in Asia.
Prostitution in Vietnam
Despite its apparent abundance, prostitution is illegal in Vietnam. The age of consent is 18. Vietnamese criminal law provides for sentences of up to 20 years in prison for the sexual exploitation of women or children, and several other countries have laws that allow them to prosecute their own citizens who travel abroad to have sex with children.
Remember that it is illegal under Vietnamese law to take a Vietnamese national into a hotel room. Although this law is rarely enforced, you could find yourself in even deeper waters if you report a crime by revealing that you shared a room with a Vietnamese national.
In addition to the legal issues, there are two other risks for those who engage in this activity. Firstly, HIV/AIDS is widespread in Vietnam and many people do not receive treatment because of the taboo nature of the disease. There is always a risk of contracting the disease from a prostitute, so you should protect yourself. Secondly, there is a risk of theft when an unknown woman is brought to a hotel or guesthouse. The story of a man waking up to find his wallet, mobile phone or laptop missing is all too common. There are also many stories of Westerners being drugged in a hotel room or driven to a dark and quiet place where they are robbed of their belongings by criminal gangs.
Scams in Vietnam
Most scams in Vietnam are related to transport, hotel prices or the two-menu system practiced by some restaurants.
Many taxi drivers in Saigon and Hanoi install fake meters that can charge 2 to 8 times as much. It is best to take a taxi from reputable companies such as Mai Linh (+84 38 38) and Vinasun in Saigon and Mai Linh and Taxigroup in Hanoi (but note that using these companies is not a guarantee). If you do not know what a reasonable price is, it is generally not advisable to agree on a price in advance. The two recommended companies have quite reliable meters. The first one suggested the Saigon Tourist Taxi, which is not recommended at all.
Taxis are plentiful in Saigon and you can get one at any time of the day or night. You can also hail a taxi and usually the people on the switchboard can either talk in English or pass the phone to someone who can. Basic rule of thumb for spotting crooks: if the taxi does not have the fare written down or the driver’s name and photo are not on the dashboard, ask the taxi to stop and get out immediately. This is definitely a scam.
When leaving the airport, the taxi driver may insist that you pay the airport toll. He may not be very cooperative about the fare and if you give him cash, he will pay the toll and pocket the rest.
Many taxi drivers in Saigon and Hanoi try to take advantage of newly arrived, gullible travellers. You should consult some travel guides and forums to prepare yourself for these little scams and to learn more about how to avoid them. The Saigon airport toll is 10,000 dong (July 2012). This amount is displayed on the dashboard of the taxi along with the price. You can confidently say “airport toll only 10,000 dong” and refuse to pay anything else, such as parking etc. (unless there are other toll roads in between). Usually the driver will not dispute this. In Saigon, a trip on the backpacker road should not cost more than 250,000 dongs from the airport.
In many other cities in Vietnam, such as Dalat, Hoi An, Nha Trang, etc., you do NOT drive by the metre. The airports are 30-40 km from these places and the meter will cost you between 500,000 and 650,000 dong. However, you can either take a bus from the airport to the city centre or negotiate a fare of 200,000-300,000 dong by taxi. Pay attention to the sides of the taxis. Usually the airport fare is indicated on the door.
Taxi and bicycle drivers may claim that they have no change when they accept payment for an agreed fare. The best way to deal with this problem is to either carry small notes or be prepared to hold out for something. Usually the driver is just trying to get an extra dollar by rounding up the fare, but to prevent this scam from becoming more popular, it is advisable to stay calm and firm on the price.
If you meet an overly friendly driver who tells you “it doesn’t matter how much you would pay” or “you can pay what you want at the end of the ride”. He may try to show you his book of comments from international tourists. This kind of driver must be a crook. If you still want to use his service, you must clearly tell him the agreed price and not pay more than that. Just be clear about what you are willing to pay. Cyclo-cross riders are simply trying to earn a living.
The hotel owners may tell you that the price of the room is 200,000 dongs. However, when you leave the hotel, they may insist that the price is 20 dollars, so you have to pay almost double. Another trick is to tell guests that a room costs a few dollars, but the next day they say that this price was only for a room with a fan and that it is a different price for a room with air conditioning. Nowadays, reputable hotel owners seem to be aware of these scams and are usually willing to help by writing down the price of the room per person per day (in US dollars or dong), whether it has air conditioning or not. Respectable hotel staff also never ask a guest to pay when checking in. Be careful if they insist that you pay when you check out but refuse to write down the price.
Some restaurants are known to have two menus, one for locals and one for foreigners. The only way to deal with this situation is to learn a few Vietnamese phrases and insist that they only show you the Vietnamese menu. If they hesitate to show you the local menu, leave.
Fake monks in Vietnam
Buddhism in Vietnam generally follows the Mahayana school, which means that the monks must be vegetarians and generally do not give alms. Monks grow their own food or buy their food from temple donations. Monks do not sell religious items (shops selling religious items are run by lay people, not monks) and do not ask people for donations. Instead, donations should be put in the donation boxes in the temples. It is up to each person to decide whether and how much to donate. The “monks” who ask tourists for donations are impostors.
Traffic in Vietnam
The first discovery for many tourists who have just arrived in Vietnam is that they have to learn how to cross a road again. You may see a tourist standing on the road for 5 minutes without knowing how to cross. Traffic in Vietnam can be a nightmare. At home, you may not experience the moment of the accident, see the injured lying on the road or hear the sound of a BANG. If you stay in Vietnam for more than a month, you have a good chance to experience all this.
The streets are crowded. Some intersections in big cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City have traffic lights that are patrolled by the police, most of them are either non-functional or ignored.
When you cross the road, don’t try to avoid motorbikes, let them avoid you. Move forward a little, a little more, and you will see motorcyclists slow down a little or take a different path. Make your speed and path predictable to other riders, do not change speed or direction abruptly and keep going until you reach your destination.
The easiest way is to follow a local and stand next to him in the opposite direction of the traffic (if you get hit, he will get you first) to cross a road.
If you are injured, do not expect the local people to be willing to help you, even to call an ambulance, as it is not free. Make sure you make it clear to the locals that you will pay for the ambulance. Even hospitals will not admit you until you can prove that you can pay the bill.
The highways are also risky, with an average of 30 deaths per day, and some residents do not even venture out unless they are in a large vehicle (car or bus). Riding a bicycle or motorbike on the motorways is an adventure for risk-takers, but certainly not for a family with children.
Nightlife dangerous in Vietnam
- Petty crime in nightclubs is not an unknown phenomenon. Do not aggravate an incident: avoid arguments with the local population, as drunks can be violent.
- The clubs are full of working girls looking for customers. They may also be looking for purses and mobile phones.
- It is safe to walk alone very late in the streets of the tourist area, but you avoid unknown women engaging you in conversation. They may try to touch you, talk nicely to you and then pick your pocket.
- Do not ask taxi drivers to recommend nightclubs. Most taxi drivers get commissions from bars and lounges to attract foreign tourists. If you go to one of these places, they will offer you cheap fares. But when you get the bill, it may include extravagant charges. Do your homework in advance and tell the taxi drivers where you want to go and insist on going where you want to go despite their admonitions. Most nightclubs have a good reputation. Going to shops with a predominantly foreign clientele is good practice.
Wildlife dangerous in Vietnam
There are few wild animals left, let alone things that are dangerous to humans. Poisonous snakes, such as cobras, may still be common in rural areas, but virtually everything else has disappeared or exists in such small numbers that the chances of seeing one are slim. There may be tigers in very small numbers in remote areas, but this is not confirmed.
Stay healthy in Vietnam
Tropical diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis are endemic in rural Vietnam. Malaria is not as much of a concern in big cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, but always remember to take a liquid mosquito repellent with you. This can be very useful, especially in rural areas and crowded neighbourhoods.
Thanks to much improved hygiene in recent years, cooked food sold by street vendors and restaurants, including mixed iced drinks, is mostly safe. Use common sense and follow the advice given in the article on travellers’ diarrhoea and you will most likely get away with it.
Health care in Vietnam
Public hospitals in Vietnam do not usually meet western standards and tend to be understaffed and overcrowded. Also, doctors and nurses in public hospitals do not speak foreign languages. If you do not speak Vietnamese, you will probably need to bring a translator. Generally, hospitals will only accept your case if you can prove that you are able to pay for the services.
There are private hospitals in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang that cater mainly to Western expats and offer excellent medical care, with staff speaking English and French, even if you have to pay a high price for the services. The French-Vietnamese hospital in Ho Chi Minh City is the best known of Vietnam’s private hospitals and a popular destination for medical tourists. Most private hospitals for expatriates accept international travel insurance.
HIV in Vietnam
Vietnam has a high HIV rate. (0.5 % of the population in 2014).